Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yes, I really am crazy

What do you do during a thunderstorm? Do you shutter the windows, turn up the TV, curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a throw and get cozy? I certainly don't. I grabbed an umbrella, ran down the block to the lake (yes, I live just a minute away), found a nice spot amongst the rocks and started snapping pictures. Now I know that waving an umbrella around when there's flash after flash of spectacular lightning displays is not a good idea, but I was counting on the trees behind me to take the hit should something come close enough to strike. Half hour later I finally figured out the approximate camera settings that would at least give me half a chance to catch an arc or two. An hour later I was soaked and my arms were getting numb, but I did manage to catch this one picture. It's not perfect, in fact it's far from it, but I was absolutely ecstatic when I looked through my pictures and saw this one amongst a sea of completely black or blurry smears. Next time I'm hoping I'll get the hang of things faster and come away with better results, but in the mean time I'm going to curl up on the couch in front of the TV with a nice hot cup of tea, a cozy bathrobe and one of these Chocolate Toffee muffins left over from this weekend's baking spree and pretend that I've been there all along, just like any other sane person.

These are the result of a spruced up Friendship Bread recipe. Once you have the basic recipe that gets passed along with the starter down pat, you'll want to experiment. I spent a whole weekend with a friend tinkering and while we came up with some great options, the Chocolate Toffee muffins were the best. I sent most of the muffins we made down to my sister to share with her always hungry college friends and I think they said it best when they called them "Crack Muffins."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Oven's First Days on the Job

Sometime in the afternoon this past Friday my brand new oven came, along with a brand new (working) dishwasher. After the preliminary formalities were dispensed with (letting the oven run for an hour to clean the sealant and vent the chemical smells), I put it straight to work. Since I was still on the clock for my paying job, the most I could do was to get a head start on some Dulce de Leche that I'd be using later that day. It's the easiest thing in the world to make. You peel the label off of a can of condensed milk, put the can in a large pot and fill it with water so that the can is completely covered. Put the pot on the stove, bring to a boil and maintain a rapid boil for the next 2-3 hours depending on how firm you need the yummy spread to be. Don't forget to check on it every half hour or so and top off with boiling water as needed to keep the can submerged and be sure to allow the can to come to room temp on it's own once you're done. Don't plunge it in cold water or you might end up cleaning this stuff off from your kitchen ceiling. Should you have the patience to do this, you will end up with a can of golden creamy custard you can mix into frostings or eat with a spoon...or both :)

Once I finally wrapped everything up at work and walked into the kitchen, it was time to really roll up my sleeves. I whipped up a batch of Lemon Curd (my most favorite thing ever) using a variation of the recipe I pulled from an old Gourmet magazine, similar to this one and while that was cooling, I really got to work. You see, on Saturday I had some people coming over for a cake tasting. I've had this in my date book for months and the original plan was to spread the baking over a few days, but ofcourse no one could have predicted my oven breaking, so everything needed to be done that night. I had four cakes to make and only a few hours in which to make them. I cranked up some music, pulled out all the ingredients and got to work. In no time at all I had the lemon cake layers done. I later whipped some of the fresh lemon curd into Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB), sprinkled some yellow sugar on top so I'd know which one it was and you can see it in the picture below. The decorations on these were minimal due to a lack of time, but it was the flavors that were really important, so I wasn't too worried.

Then came the layers for the Parrot cake below. It's obviously not made of parrots, that would be morbid and cruel. It's a carrot cake where I replaced carrots with shredded pears. Doing this adds wonderful flavor and tons of moisture to the cake. Top that with honey and lemon spiked cream cheese frosting and it's definitely on my top 5 cakes list.

Next up was a new recipe for a White Chocolate cake, which I made some extra big layers of for my nephew's birthday cake on Sunday. These will later be filled with white chocolate ganache and fresh blackberries, then topped with the same lemon curd flavored SMB frosting I made for the lemon cake. I will make a few small adjustments to this recipe, but all in all it was very good:

And last but certainly not least was this Apple Spice cake topped with the by now cooled Dulce de Leche mixed into the SMB frosting. This one, I think would have been great without any frosting at all. In fact I made cupcakes from the leftover batter and if I don't take them to work tomorrow, I'll be tempted to finish them all off myself and ruin the non-existent diet that I'm supposed to be on.

Sometime around midnight I ran out of eggs. Woops. The last stores around me closed at midnight, so I changed out of my "cooking clothes" and took off in search of a 24 hour Jewel or Dominicks, which I luckily found and was back in my kitchen just a short hour later! Yikes, next time I'll need to really plan better! Finally, at the early hour of 4:30, having cleaned up as much as I had the strength to of the kitchen mess, I collapsed into bed and caught a few hours of sleep, picking things up again when I woke up a few hours later. The house cleaned (sort of), the table set, and the pictures taken, I was about to start making actual food to serve, when my friend called saying that she'd be arriving early...or would have if she hadn't gotten lost. After giving her some directions I gave up on attempting any more cooking. She was coming with her mom and her sister and they would be bringing sandwiches and bubbly, so if you really think about it, that and the cakes is more than enough for lunch. I think the tasting went well and we all had fun trying the different cakes and chatting. In the end they picked the white chocolate blackberry cake with the lemon frosting...and Katie, I wrote your decision in this blog, so you can't change your mind later!

Once they left, I loaded the dishwasher (I LOVE this thing! I have no idea how I got along without it all these years) and went to take a nap...which ended up lasting 4 hours. If you think baking was done for the weekend, you'd be wrong. I still had my nephew's birthday cake to finish. And not just any old cake, it had to be Curious George themed! I drove out to Target and WalMart, hoping I could just find some Curious George toys to put on top, but strangely there was nothing. He's adorable, why aren't there more toys with this cute monkey? I went back home empty handed and after scouring my pantry, I decided to just draw his face out of white and dark chocolate. I printed up a template, melted some chocolate and I think that considering that I haven't done this in years, it came out great! I filled and frosted the 2 tiered cake with a bright yellow frosting, topped it with the chocolate George and some festive sprinkles and was shocked to see that it was again the middle of the night, 3am. Time just runs away from me these days. Thank goodness I'm a night person.

I think the oven and I deserve a break. I promise not to bake anything for at least 24 hours....oh darn, I forgot to feed my friendship bread. I guess I'll go do that before turning in for the night. Sweet dreams :)